Aural Atmosphere

When we think of the soundscape of a city, we think of engines and sirens, footsteps and voices, and car alarms, always car alarms. But each city has its own catalogue of sounds that help to define it.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when we went through a period of unusually heavy fog. Fog horns sounded through the night, confusing some. Vancouver is touted as a recreational paradise of mountains and seaside, but it’s also a working port.

Those fog horns are a fickle, seasonal addition to our soundscape, but we have a few more reliable components. There are two, in particular, that define Vancouver’s soundscape. The Nine O’clock Gun can still startle me after all these years of living in the city, if I happen to lose track of time. It can be heard across the city and beyond its borders into the surrounding municipalities. The Noon Whistle, which you can hear in the video at the top of this post, brings daily relief to office workers downtown and serves as a rallying cry to weekend late sleepers. They aren’t as famous as Gastown’s Steam Clock, but they pace out life in this city for its residents.

Other Vancouver sounds that come to mind for me: the beeps and whirrs of our trolley buses, the sound of trains moving, the Carnival Band, and the roaring of the cranes at the Port of Vancouver. Oh, and I can’t forget crows. There are so many here that they’ve become a sort of emblem in art and music.

I’ll leave you with a video that uses more Vancouver sounds and a question: What are the sounds that define the place you live?